Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Symbols

“Lift High the Cross”

One of my favorite feasts of the liturgical year is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It draws me back to Good Friday but in the light of Easter Sunday. that which was meant for death and despair has become our joy and hope. In a world that exalts a life free of care and suffering, this feast reminds us that the cross can bring sweetness when a situation is so sour.

The following is a meditation was written last year by Brother John M. Samaha, S.M. at St. Jude Maronite Church in Murray, Utah on the occasion of the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross ~ September 14. Enjoy!«Continue Reading»

Encourage & Teach: The Sacramental Seal

Small_Red_RoseAre you familiar with the phrase sub rosa or “under the rose?” Beginning in the sixteenth century, the rose was occasionally placed over the entrance to a confessional to symbolize the sacramental seal and its obligation of permanent silence concerning what is revealed.[1] (Read more…)

Encourage & Teach: Anchors Away

anchor-dropping-smhomeOkay, I’m still thinking about the beach. Maybe it’s because in two weeks I’ll be there myself. Perhaps we may consider a few more images that many of us see at the shore.

Take the anchor for instance. Anchors are one of the most ancient symbols found in the Roman catacombs.The anchor brings together the cross and the various nautical Christian symbols (fish, boat, dolphin), and signifies our hope in Christ. (Read more…)

Encourage & Teach: The Fruitful Madonna

christ-child-madonna-of-pomegranate-sandro-botticelliImages are compact carriers of meaning. They have the ability to communicate volumes of information with a glance and, at times, provide hours of fruitful meditation with just a little informed reflection. Signs and symbols are a tool to bridge the learning gap which, during various parts of history, was important –the prince and pauper are suddenly both able to learn regardless of education.

Artists over the centuries have used many symbols and images to communicate and teach us about our faith. Many of these great masters have used natural symbols, illustrations from Sacred Scripture, and, at times, they have redeemed and Christianized ancient mythological symbols.(Read more…)

Encourage & Teach: Finding Mary In Your Garden

sunflowerThe best memories my grandmother formed with me all revolved around working with her in her gardens. In fact, the majority of her backyard was a garden. It is probably for this reason why I love working in gardens (even though I have little time to do so lately) and have developed a great appreciation for so many different flowers – all of which my wife appreciates every two weeks. I also do not find it a coincidence that I was given a lifelong penance during my sophomore year of college to meditate on John 15 (Vine and the branches) every time I work in my yard or garden. (Read more…)

The Fasting Serpent

For centuries, the temptation of Adam and Eve has been the subject of artists, poets and storytellers. We all know the story – Adam and Eve were in the garden, the serpent tempted them, they sinned and were thrown out of the garden forever. Thus man was estranged from the Lord until the redemption of our lord Jesus. Okay, that was a little simplistic but you know the story.

The central antagonist in the story is the serpent. Since the fall of mankind, it has been the symbol of temptation and evil. Interestingly enough, there is another tradition that makes the serpent a symbol of “repentance, reconciliation and readiness for the Eucharist.”[1]

The serpent seems to be redeemed through its entrance into Christian legend that spins a fasting tale. It speaks of the serpent who fasts for forty-days before shedding its skin. An older legend says that before the serpent quenches its thirst it leaves its venom in its cave so it doesn’t inadvertently poison itself.[2]

[1] Peter Klein, ed., The Catholic Source Book, 3rd ed. (Dubuque, Iowa: ACTA Publications, 2000), p. 102

[2] Ibid.

Gaudete Sunday: A Season of Evangelization

The Church today has named this Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. As we all know, Gaudete means joy but it is a very specific type of joy – a subdued, subtle joy. Not a full blown joy but more of a quiet “yay”. Why is that? Because we are still in a penitential season. The Christmas carols are not yet supposed to be playing, or at least, not constantly and at full blast. Of course that is a little hard at the office or on the Metro. That being said, we should be preparing for Christmas with an attitude of quiet and stillness. The words of Psalm 46:10 come to mind,

Be still and know that I am God.

If we do not embrace this season of Advent, how are we supposed to hear what obstacles the Lord desires to remove from our lives? If we do not make room for him in our heart, He once again will hear that there is no room in the inn.  We try to practice this at every liturgy when we say,

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Seriously, and let’s be honest, have we used the last two weeks to make room in our hearts for the revelation or the unveiling of His presence that He desires for us at Christmas? How are we to experience Christmas joy if we are celebrating up to that day? He has a special joy for us but it means we first must be still and quiet.

But there is a more important reason for us who claim Christ as our Lord and our love. Literally two weeks ago, speaking about the United States, Pope Benedict said:

“Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts” (Pope Benedict XVI, To the Bishops from the United States of America on their ad Limina visit, Nov. 26, 2011).

We need to use this time of preparation because it is our duty and obligation to provide a reason and a context for this season…

Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing two baby boys, Daniel and Joshua who can now say with the prophet Isaiah,

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; (Isaiah 61:1a)

We who have been baptized also share in that anointing and thus we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to:

bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners,(Isaiah 61:1b)

In imitation of John the Baptist, we need to be that,

voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”(John 1:23, cf. Isaiah 40:3)

Over the next two weeks, many of us here will be at holiday parties. And, while the culture encourages, much to its credit, a season of generosity and gift-giving…I look around and cannot help but wonder if it is not a distraction for hearts in which “the love of God has grown cold.” Bishop Loverde shared this week that he sees in the culture (and the Church) that Advent does not seem to build

“toward the coming (adventus) and reliving of the Christ Child’s birth in our lives, but rather toward some blend of sentimentalism, vacation and entertainment.”[1]

We will inevitably meet those who are not practicing Christians and who are looking at us…looking at me asking, “Does he have something that I do not? Is he any different because of Christ? Why does he celebrate this season?”

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Celebrating Advent

Today begins the new liturgical year and our “little Lent” in preparation for the Solemnity of the Incarnation. Why do we have a year that is separate from the secular calendar year? Simply put, the liturgical year is meant to be the guiding principal of a Catholic’s temporal cycle and life:

94.[1] The liturgical year is the temporal structure within which the Church celebrates the holy mysteries of Christ: “From the Incarnation and the Nativity to the Ascension, to Pentecost and to the wait in joyful hope for the Lord’s coming”(109).[2] [Emphasis mine]

Within the liturgical cycle the Divine Liturgy occupies priority of place. Since the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life,”[3] all our devotions are intended to flow to and from the liturgy. Our spirituality or liturgical life necessarily consists of those devotions that assist us to grow in holiness. And since we live in a temporal world that is meant to express eternity, our devotions are expressed within the appropriate season:

In the liturgical year, “the celebration of the Paschal Mystery […] is the most privileged moment in the daily, weekly and annual celebration of Christian worship”(110).[4] Consequently, the priority of the Liturgical year over any other devotional form or practice must be regarded as a touch stone for the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety.[5]

Even how we decorate and live out the various seasons is catechetical, not only to our children but also to our family and friends. Advent is no different. Don’t get me wrong, the “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” branding is great. However, I think we would make much more of an impact if we lived out our Catholic traditions with fervor and diligence in accordance with the appropriate seasons. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, everyone knew you were Catholic because you did not eat meat on Friday. And yes, it was abused at times but for the faithful who integrated the pastoral theology of the Church, the testimony was simple and profound.

So, what does the Church say about Advent? At first glance, I am sure you are saying, “Wait, they actually provide guidance of how we are to live out Advent?” Yep! We’ve been doing this for 2000 years and have collected a few good ideas.

The document for guidance is contained in the Directory for Popular Piety and the Liturgy (DPPL) which was revised and promulgated in 2001 by the Congregation on Divine Worship and the Sacraments (CDW). Additionally, for those who think it is just another document and lazy reading for a rainy day, it is issued by a Pontifical Congregation, therefore, is binding on all Catholics.

What does it say? Glad you asked. The DPPL provides a rich and beautiful set of options (not all inclusive but those that most generously express the richness of our faith in accordance with the season) to properly prepare us for and during this season. Advent of courses is a time of expectation and waiting,

  • waiting-memory of the first, humble coming of the Lord in our mortal flesh; waiting-supplication for his final, glorious coming as Lord of History and universal Judge;
  • conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3,2);
  • joyful hope that the salvation already accomplished by Christ (cf. Rm 8, 24-25) and the reality of grace in the world, will mature and reach their fulness, thereby granting us what is promised by faith, and “we shall become like him for we shall see him as he really is” (John 3,2).[6]

The Church recommends a number of devotions to assist us on this journey called Advent. This journey is meant to help us “relive” the four stages of revelation prior to the Nativity. To do so, we are encouraged to make use of the Advent Wreath by:

Placing four candles on green fronds has become a symbol of Advent in many Christian home, especially in the Germanic countries and in North America.

The Advent wreath, with the progressive lighting of its four candles, Sunday after Sunday, until the Solemnity of Christmas, is a recollection of the various stages of salvation history prior to Christ’s coming and a symbol of the prophetic light gradually illuminating the long night prior to the rising of the Sun of justice (cf. Ml 3,20; Lk 1,78).[7]

No one would argue that Advent is unmistakably Marian. Our Eastern brethren take our Lady’s role in the plan of salvation so seriously that it purposefully highlights her role through its calendar and liturgies:

In the calendars of the Oriental Churches, the period of preparation for the celebration of the manifestation (Advent) of divine salvation (Theophany) in the mysteries of Christmas-Epiphany of the Only Son of God, is markedly Marian in character. Attention is concentrated on preparation for the Lord’s coming in the Deipara. For the Orientals, all Marian mysteries are Christological mysteries since they refer to the mystery of our salvation in Christ. In the Coptic rite, the Lauds of the Virgin Mary are sung in the Theotokia. Among the Syrians, Advent is referred to as the Subbara or Annunciation, so as to highlight its Marian character. The Byzantine Rite prepares for Christmas with a whole series of Marian feasts and rituals.[8]

Of special note in the Latin Rite is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The themes associated with the Immaculate Conception are central to Advent. Here in the America’s, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place in our tradition because of its connection to the Immaculate Conception and evangelistic outreach to Central and South Americans.

Among the recommended devotions is the display of a manger or crib – and by extension the crèche,

As is well known, in addition to the representations of the crib found in churches since antiquity, the custom of building cribs in the home was widely promoted from the thirteenth century, influenced undoubtedly by St. Francis of Assisi’s crib in Greccio. Their preparation, in which children play a significant role, is an occasion for the members of the family to come into contact with the mystery of Christmas, as they gather for a moment of prayer or to read the biblical accounts of the Lord’s birth.[9]

There are a number of traditions that may assist us prepare during Advent and Christmastide. To the growing Hispanic American and our Italian population processions are a traditional expressions for devotions.

In many regions, various kinds of processions are held in Advent, publicly to announce the imminent birth of the Saviour (the “day star” in some Italian processions), or to represent the journey to Bethlehem of Joseph and Mary and their search for a place in which Jesus would be born (the posadas in the Hispanic and Latin American tradition).[10]

Since Pentecost, the very first novena, popular devotion and piety has developed a number of novenas in connection to various feasts. The Christmas novena is an exciting way to blend a child’s Christmas expectations with prayer and the posture of the Advent season:

The Christmas novena began as a means of communicating the riches of the Liturgy to the faithful who were unable easily to grasp it. It has played a very effective role and can continue to play such a role. At the same time, in current conditions where the faithful have easier access to the Liturgy, it would seem desirable that vespers from the 17-23 of December should be more solemn by adopting the use of the “major antiphons”, and by inviting the faithful to participate at the celebration. Such a celebration, held either before of after which the popular devotions to which the faithful are particularly attached, would be an ideal “Christmas novena”, in full conformity with the Liturgy and mindful of the needs of the faithful. Some elements, such as the homily, the use of incense, and the intercessions, could also be expanded within the celebration of Vespers.[11]

Most Catholics would connect this novena with the “O Anthipons” made popular through the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Just to add a note of snark, why is it that parishes use this song as the premier Advent song when it is meant to be used between the dates of December 17 – 24 ? Just a question.

Hopefully, this is a beginning to understand our tradition of celebrating Advent. Popular piety has a way of conserving the themes and practices that the Church desires us to keep during the Advent without losing ourselves in the commercialization:

Popular piety, because of its intuitive understanding of the Christian mystery, can contribute effectively to the conservation of many of the values of Advent, which are not infrequently threatened by the commercialization of Christmas and consumer superficiality.[12]

If we have learned nothing over the past 200 years, popular piety has taught us that that Advent is meant to be a time of sober and joyous simplicity. The sobriety is usually overlooked because we forget that we not only anticipating the first coming of our Lord but also His Second Coming. This understanding will cause us to examine our conscience, repent of our sins and make room for our Lord to be born in our hearts.

As we prepare for Christmas, let’s first live out our Advent. Christmas will be here sooner than we want. May this little Lent be a time of profound spiritual renewal. Take a look at your devotions and align them with the liturgy and watch your spiritual life deepen beyond your wildest dreams.

[1] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments (CDW), Directory On Popular Piety And The Liturgy (DPPL), (2001) 94.

[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 102.

[3] Lumen Gentium, 11. cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324.

[4] PAUL VI, Apostolic Letter Mysterii paschalis, in AAS 61 (1969) 222.

[5] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 94.

[6] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 96.

[7] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 98.

[8] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 101.

[9] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 104.

[10] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 9.

[11] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 103.

[12] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 105.

Homily for Christ the King

For us who live in a Democratic society, we often think and feel that we have no point of reference for a feast like today that exults Christ as King. Many see kings as a hold-over from medieval society, a memory of tyrannical rule by those who have while, we, who don’t want a king, have not. Royalty are seen as figure heads that have now been replaced by some form of parliament. Others see kings as a way to oppress the masses – their motto and reasoning might go something like this: Absolute power absolutely corrupts. Thus, we have banished kings out of our vocabulary because we have no need of them. However, I wholeheartedly disagree.

We may say that we don’t want or need a king but if that were true, why is it so prevalent in our American culture? A few years ago Hollywood gave us the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Troy. We’ve seen Alexander the Great running rough shod across the silver screen at the local multiplex. Last year, we saw Clash of the Titans, Princess Kaiulani and even Mega Mind wanting to rule their world.

We have Burger King, and Budweiser – the king of beers . . . We have the Lion King (original and the 2011 remake) and Elvis – the king of rock and roll. I think at the end of the day we are okay with, and even desire Kings…as long as we are the ones wearing the crown. Have you ever gone to the Magic Kingdom where you could be a princess or prince for a day?

But we all know that deep down, something is amiss. We work so hard to be in charge and yet, feel so empty when we arrive at the top. And that is because, we were never meant to rule: our happiness is found in serving the King of Kings and His people. But it is not just an external service assisting our neighbor.

It is a service of the heart, a transformation of spirit that can only happen when we allow the rightful King to rule our hearts and minds and bodies. There is a simple maxim and truth: whoever creates something, best knows its purpose and place in this life. Meaning, the Blessed Trinity created us and, therefore, knows best what will make us joyful in this life and the next.

To be a Christian is to follow behind Christ and to allow Him to transform us into the men and women of God He designed us to be. He is the rule by which we make our comparisons not our neighbor. Being a Christian means submitting everything to Him: how we work, speak, the music we listen to, the movies we watch; how we treat our family, friends and loved ones. Even our time is not our own: serving does not revolve around our schedule or who we want to serve but around the action and timeline of Christ. For Scripture proclaims,

“to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever!” (Jude 1:25)

Some of us may be saying, I don’t want to change. G.K. Chesterton would respond by saying:

“If you want to stay the same, you have to change.”

A house that is left alone deteriorates – that is why we should redecorate, to keep it looking new – please don’t tell my wife I said this! Our King, Christ the King, is not a tyrannical ruler. He is gentle and humble of heart. He wants to hear and then assist us in our actions, troubles, joys and sufferings. Unlike the Lord of the Rings in Tolkien’s classic, of whom Gandalf says,

“There is only one Lord of the Ring…and He shares power with no one;”

our King, desires us to rule with Him by perfecting His creation and serving each other with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength.

In a minute, we will have the opportunity to invite Christ the King to rule in our hearts, lives and homes. The Bishop has encouraged us to recommit ourselves and our families to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This image and devotion has been given to us by the 17th century Visitation nun, St. Margaret Mary Alocoque. Our Lord appeared to her revealing His heart so we might know that our King is gentle, merciful, forgiving and aflame with divine love for us.

The Bishop, in fact, is encouraging us to enthrone the image, which can be found in the bulletin, in a prominent place in our homes as a sign that he reigns in our hearts. How does our King rule? He freely hands over His heart to us so that we may be transformed by being bathed in His love. It is His rule in our lives and our submission to His law and kingdom of love that heals and makes us whole.

In contrast, Dante in his Inferno, quotes satan who says,

“Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.”

This could very well become the motto of our culture…look around at our culture…maybe we even embody this by our own words and actions. But we can change this, you can change this. If you are willing to take a chance, or you know that you need to submit to Christ the King, join me now as we bend our knee before the King of Kings and recite together the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus…

Lord Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, we consecrate to You our persons and our lives. We give You our actions, our desires, our troubles, our joys and our sufferings. We give You our families, our friends, and our parish community. In the future we wish to live only to honor and love You and bring You glory. It will always be our heart’s desire to love You more and more, and to make You known, loved and served by others. We know this, O Sacred Heart of Jesus! You are the faithful friend, the heart’s intimate friend. You never abandon us. We trust ourselves to You! Above all, give us charity. Bind our hearts together in our parish community of [Insert parish name]. May our names one day be written forever in the Book of the Living with tjust who reign with You in the life of everlasting hahe ppiness. Amen.

Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Yours.


Exaltation of the Holy Cross

gothic cross pray faith pictures, backgrounds and imagesThe Exaltation of the Holy Cross is probably my second most favorite Feast in the liturgical calendar. Looking upon the cross is more than just a symbol of our redemption or the expression of Christ’s love for us. To me, it is the Throne of the Most High, the nuptial bed upon which Christ consummated His love with His bride the Church, terror of demons, and the strength of the martyrs.

The Golden Legend speaks of the Holy Cross in this was:

“It is said that the cross was made out of four kinds of wood, namely, palmwood, cedar, cypress and olive wood. Hence the verse: _Ligna crucis palma, cedrus, cypressus, oliva_. There are four wooden parts to the cross — the upright shaft, the crossbeam, the tablet above, and the block into which the cross was fixed, or, as Gregory of Tours says, the crosspiece that supported Christ’s feet. Hence each of these parts might be made of any of the kinds of wood enumerated above. The apostle seems to have this variety of woods in mind when he says: ‘You may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth.’ The eminent doctor [Augustine], at the place referred to, explains these words as follows: ‘The breadth of the Lord’s cross is the crossbeam upon which his hands were extended; the length means the shaft from the ground to the crossbeam, where the whole body hung from the hands; the height means from the crossbeam to the top, where the head touched; the depth is the part hidden by the earth in which the cross stood. By this sign of the cross all human and Christian action is described: to do good works in Christ and to cling to him perseveringly, to hope for heaven, and to avoid profaning the sacraments.'” (_The Golden Legend_, Bl. James of Voragine, v. 1, p. 278, tr. Wm. Granger Ryan)

Take some time to gaze upon the instrument that is the glory of Israel. Want to know more?

Thanks to the Women for Faith & Family site that provides the following explanation:

On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (or Triumph of the Cross) we honor the Holy Cross by which Christ redeemed the world. The public veneration of the Cross of Christ originated in the fourth century, according to early accounts. The miraculous discovery of the cross on September 14, 326, by Saint Helen, mother of Constantine, while she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, is the origin of the tradition of celebrating the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on this date. Constantine later built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of her discovery of the cross. On this same pilgrimage she ordered two other churches built: one in Bethlehem near the Grotto of the Nativity, the other on the Mount of the Ascension, near Jerusalem.

In the Western Church the feast came into prominence in the seventh century — after 629, when the Byzantine emperor Heraclitus restored the Holy Cross to Jerusalem, after defeating the Persians who had stolen it.

Christians “exalt” (raise on high) the Cross of Christ as the instrument of our salvation. Adoration of the Cross is, thus, adoration of Jesus Christ, the God Man, who suffered and died on this Roman instrument of torture for our redemption from sin and death. The cross represents the One Sacrifice by which Jesus, obedient even unto death, accomplished our salvation. The cross is a symbolic summary of the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ — all in one image.

The Cross — because of what it represents — is the most potent and universal symbol of the Christian faith. It has inspired both liturgical and private devotions: for example, the Sign of the Cross, which is an invocation of the Holy Trinity; the “little” Sign of the Cross on head, lips and heart at the reading of the Gospel; praying the Stations (or Way) of the Cross; and the Veneration of the Cross by the faithful on Good Friday by kissing the feet of the image of Our Savior crucified.

Placing a crucifix (the cross with an image of Christ’s body upon it) in churches and homes, in classrooms of Catholic schools and in other Catholic institutions, or wearing this image on our persons, is a constant reminder — and witness — of Christ’s ultimate triumph, His victory over sin and death through His suffering and dying on the Cross.

We remember Our Lord’s words, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Mt 10:38,39). Meditating on these words we unite ourselves — our souls and bodies — with His obedience and His sacrifice; and we rejoice in this inestimable gift through which we have the hope of salvation and the glory of everlasting life.